Life Abroad – Part 78 GENESIS OF A SANGHA SABHA
Posted on May 8th, 2014

Dr. Tilak Fernando

(Nicky Karunarathna exposures – continuation from 77)

tilakfenandologo

Nicky Karunarathna had somehow persuaded Ven. Muruttetuwe Ananda thera and obtained permission to use his temple, Abayarama of Narahenpita, to convene a meeting and managed to get as many participants as possible to attend the gathering. Few monks, many Buddhists and prominent leaders in the society had attended the assembly on the following day at 11.00 am in the presence of Ven. Sobitha thera of Naga Vihara, Kotte.

“Dinesh Gunawardena was the only politico with some gusto out of all the political leaders who attended the meeting! At the time SLFP was totally against the setting up of Provincial Councils and signing of the Indo-Lanka Pact. They were somewhat disorganised at the time with Mrs. Bandaranaike’s civic rights being taken away”.

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Initial meeting

Undaunted by perturbations and handicaps, Nicky Karunarathna had addressed the gathering emphasising on the fact that an establishment of a Sangha Sabha was vitally important to denounce the government’s move as well as to condemn its leadership for their attempt to divide the country with the help of the Indian leader! In his speech, Nicky had reiterated that the Sinhala race was renowned for fighting a worthy cause and had never allowed the nation to go down!

“The gathering accepted and endorsed my (Nicky) statement with one voice and gave their whole hearted support to me, but they were puzzled with the idea as to how we could find a Buddhist temple to convene the Sangha Sabha meeting”.

Unperturbed by various discouraging comments that surfaced during the initial summit to the effect that it would be an arduous task to find a Buddhist monk who would render his premises to this cause, the responsibility and the challenge to find a suitable venue had fallen upon Nicky’s shoulders! Therefore, when he walked out of the first ever meeting held at Abayarama in the morning, he had announced that a second meeting would be held in the evening at 18.00 hrs on the same day.

Old friend

In his next move he had approached an old friend, Nanda Amarasinghe, who hailed from an illustrious family and had been a wealthy businessman (Managing Director of Rupee Finance Company). He lived in a spacious residence at Gregory’s Road, Colombo7, with a massive garden space extending up to one acre!

Nanda Amarasinghe’s resolute Sinhala/Buddhist pedigree lineage had made him the Treasurer of the Maha Bodhi Sangamaya at Maligakanda Agrashravaka Mahaviharaya where Gamini Jayasuriya, a Cabinet Minister of JR Jayewardene Government, was the President at the time.

Nanda Amarasinghe’s advice to Nicky had been to obtain Gamini Jayasuiriya’s consent first to use the Maligakanda premises to convene a Sangha Sabha meeting. However, when they approached the Minister, they found even Gamini Jayasuriya was dead against the signing of the Indo-Lanka Pact and to their delight permission was granted to go ahead with Nicky’s program but with one condition – Nicky had to consult Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha thera prior to doing anything!

Nanda Amarasinghe and Nicky finally met up with Ven. Madihe Pannasiha thera at Maharagama, as instructed. To their glee, even the venerable was in full agreement with the issue and had promised to get many monks from rural areas too. Having said so, the venerable had immediately telephoned the Asgiriya Maha Nayaka thera and requested his holiness to preside over the Sangha Sabha.

Nicky by then was exultant when his plans started to fall into place one by one, yet he still had to return to Kelaniya Pirivena to elaborate on the developments and future plans to Velamitiyawe Kusala Damma thera about the Asgiriya Mahanayake thera’s decision to preside over the meeting with Ven. Madihe Pannasiha in attendance.

Venerable Velamitiyawe Kusala Damma thera gave Nicky permission to use the premises with an added bonus of providing accommodations to monks who were to arrive from outstations to reside at Kelaniya Pirivena as long as Nicky looked after their welfare, Dana etc. It was an ‘ideal location’ as far as accommodation was concerned as many monks who arrived from all over the rural areas needed to be accommodated somewhere in Colombo.

Sole planner and implementer

Nicky drives a point loud and clear with pride by stating: “I was the sole planner, implementer and the Chief organiser of the event and others were mere travellers in this journey as each and every one was dead scared of the then JRJ/Premadasa regime”.

On the same evening at a second meeting at Abayarama at Narahenpita where most of the participants who attended the morning had flocked together, including Dinesh Gunawardena, Nicky Karunarathna had disclosed how he managed to get two most prominent and suitable venues, instead of one, to hold the Sangha Sabha meeting with the facility of accommodating more than ten thousand Buddhist monks arriving from all over the country. Finally it was agreed that ‘the Sangha Sabha would be held at the Kelaniya Vidyalankara Pirivena, presided over by Asgiriya Maha Nayaka thera, with Ven. Madihe Pannasiha thera in attendance’.

The final arrangement was to stage a protest rally on the following day starting from the Maligakanda Pirivena up to Pettah Bodhi tree and to stage a sit-in campaign there after the Sangha Sabha convention denounced the Indo Lanka Pact. In their next move all outstation temples were contacted and informed the monks that ‘everything was in order, including accommodation’ when they arrived in Colombo.

While all these were taking place in the ‘quiet’, JRJ regime wasn’t aware of an impending mammoth Sangha Sabha was being organised. Nicky’s next move had to been to seek assistance of a friend named Leelananda, a billionaire businessmen who had only a daughter residing at Norris Canal Road, Colombo in a large house.

Sangha Sabha

Leelananda’s father-in-law was one of the prosperous and largest rice traders in the country with rice mills in Anuradhapura. Leelananda’s philanthropy extended in supplying most of the rice required for two places, namely, Maligakanda and Kelaniya Pirivena. Likewise most of the mercantile companies provided soft drinks, biscuits, vegetables and other refreshments to feed a large crowd.

The greatest historical Sangha Sabha in the history of Sri Lanka to denounce a regime as ‘Traitors of the Nation’ against a Provincial Council Bill took place as scheduled with over 10,000 monks, and in excess of 15,000 general public gathering at Kelaniya Vidyalankara Pirivena, chock a blocking the place and spilling over to the main Kandy road.

Ven Asgiriya Maha Nayaka thera presided over the meeting while Ven. Madihe Pannasiha in attendance with Welimetiyawe Kusala Dhamma thera and many more distinguished monks from all over the country were in the audience. When the meeting was in progress and the crowd was spilling over to the Kandy Road, Douglas Peiris, (believed to be the Kelaniya Police HQI at the time) had arrived on the scene with a huge platoon and gone straight up to the monks to find out who the chief organiser was – needless to say the cat was let out of the bag! According to Nicky, “Douglas Peiris and he knew each other quite well. So, the HQI had taken a step back and allowed Nicky to carry on stating that he ( HQI) had to control the crowd as not to spill over to the Kandy Road! The only politician, Nicky Karunarathna says, in attendance had been Dinesh Gunawardena, but to his surprise Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Anura Bandaranaike too had visited with some of the SLFP hierarchy, quite unexpectedly to thank Nicky personally for being brave in taking such bold and responsible stand single handed. 

Signs of a disruption

Just prior to the conclusion of the Sangha Sabha, some of the young monks who had gathered there had started to agitate creating somewhat of a commotion. ‘Most of those young monks were JVP affiliated’, which Nicky subsequently learnt from Bengamuwe Nalaka thera. Their intention had been to start the rally, there and then, and march up to Colombo and disrupt the entire traffic flow to which Nicky vehemently had opposed. All the Nayake theras too had approved of what Nicky had planned for the following day as the only means to achieve results.

Ven Asgiriya Maha Nayaka thera made an appeal to the young monks and warned them against indulging in any haphazard activity, or to disrupt the plan right at that very moment and to take instructions only from Nicky. Unfortunately despite such soothing advice from the Maha Nayake theras persuasion of the rebel monks had been a problem in such a volatile environment. Nicky Karunarathna had smelt a rat and in his mind the young monks were going to highjack the event and but he knew exactly what to do.

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Next week: (79) Pandemonium that followed the Indo Lanka Pact 

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